Are libertarians science deniers?

Conference hall of ~1200 attendees at 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting
Conference hall of ~1200 attendees at 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting

A response to Donald Prothero’s speech ‘The Mind of a Science Denier’ presented at the 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting

Throughout my experience at The 2014 Amazing Meeting, I had few major disagreements with the information presented during panel discussions, speeches, and presentations. Read my thoughts, typed while in flight, here. Most of the major disagreements involved Donald Prothero’s speech ‘The Mind of a Science Denier.’

Some major points of contention I had with his quite partisan speech — much unlike other speeches which did not seem to have much discussion of politics or political leanings (although to be fair Michael Shermer seemed to echo some of his libertarian perspectives) — were rejecting the notion that ‘woo’ exists within both ‘the right’ and ‘the left’ and the claim I will discuss in this piece – that libertarians are [overwhelmingly] science deniers who reject the notion of [human-caused] global warming.

From my experience, libertarians do not overwhelmingly deny [fields of] science — rejecting the ideas that humans are contributing toward global warming and that global warming is happening — but rather object to particular government policies/business regulations which are aimed to be an effective response to climate change.

Objecting to a government program or policy is simply not equivalent to science denial; one can oppose a policy or program and still believe global warming is happening. Libertarians often get undeserved reputations due to their opposition toward particular government programs. From my experience, people often jump to unfair conclusions — delving into the mind of libertarians – as a result of libertarian opposition to government policies and programs.

Just because a libertarian opposes measures implemented by the TSA, for instance, does not mean that they have no regard for safety and security in airports. Just because a libertarian opposes government funding for a social program or agency does not mean that they hate people who are destitute, racial minorities, flood victims, etc. Just because a libertarian opposes business regulations put forth because of global warming does not mean that they are a science denier.

Libertarians may oppose government spending because they think government responses are not effective responses to societal problems. Libertarians may think government officials are spending too much money and private organizations should instead tackle challenges. Libertarians may support a government initiative, but find minor problems with it, thus leading to opposition until there is some revising.

Sure, some libertarians, motivated by political ideology, may both reject government responses to global warming in the form of business regulations and not believe global warming – contributed to by humans — is happening.

Prothero, though, in his speech, from what I remember, made no distinction between libertarians who deny global warming and libertarians who believe global warming is happening but oppose government regulations responding to global warming. Prothero also did not even, unless I am forgetting something, present statistics which identified libertarians who reject the fact that global warming is happening [and oppose government sanctions intended to offset global warming] – but rather glibly dismissed libertarians as science deniers – again, overlooking the disctinction between opposition to policy from people who are not ‘science deniers.’

Personally, I don’t identify as a libertarian. I would rather not use political labels for various reasons including association with perspectives I do not endorse and the limiting nature of labels. I instead prefer to talk about issues on an issue-by-issue basis rather than using a label and being pigeonholed. Additionally, I have no opinion on government sanctions responding to global warming, but do accept the fact — deferring to scientists who are experts – that global warming is happening and humans are contributing to it. My personal stances, though, are irrelevant when considering my objections to Prothero’s speech.

I would appreciate feedback from Prothero and others. Perhaps I missed some nuance in Prothero’s presentation or it is actually the case that libertarians overwhelmingly both oppose government sanctions responding to global warming and reject the fact that global warming is happening. Still, neglecting to recognize that libertarians may oppose environmental government sanctions but accept the fact that global warming is happening is a huge oversight. I expect better at a skeptical conference.

As always, feel free to comment below.

#TAM2014 recap

Photo with James Randi

#TAM2014 was a great experience.

The long experience that was The Amazing Meeting (#TAM2014) has concluded. Thanks to fundraiser supporters and promoters — some of whom I was able to meet at the event — I was able to afford the conference excursion and archive the conference via Twitter – mostly in the form of live-tweeting – and provide updates and photos through Facebook.

As The Amazing Meeting program and website promised, the conference was packed with panel discussions; presentations; talks; workshops; movie screenings; comedy acts; and Penn Jilette’s Rock & Roll, Donut, and Bacon Party which included filming for an upcoming movie dubbed Director’s Cut in which the audience was included.

The schedule was so packed I was quite tired throughout the event – even after naps and about five to six hours of sleep each night. Travelling, too, and waking early for a 6AM flight (which was later delayed) likely contributed to my exhaustion, but I was able to live-tweet throughout the event and not skip sessions for need of sleep.

Conference hall of ~1200 attendees
Conference hall of ~1200 attendees

TAM2014 staff recommended, during the opening remarks and throughout the conference, to engage in conversation with conference goers and JREF staff. Throughout the experience, since most of my time was spent live-tweeting, I did not have too much time for social interaction outside of scheduled meals, but the social interaction – when it happened – was worthwhile.

People were friendly, talkative, open to discussion, and positive. I met many people with whom I have interacted with in online forums and social networks. Some approached me thanking me for my activism and shining a skeptical light on goings-on in online spaces. Those who did not know who I was, though, were still happy to chat and – like the others I was familiar with – were very pleasant.

I arrived in time for the Thursday welcome reception which was a great time to socialize. I particularly enjoy when conferences build in time to interact with staff and attendees )not all conferences do this and instead cram the schedule with talks and panels). Friday started with a breakfast buffet which, like the other conference meals, had great variety including vegetarian options. There was more than enough food allowing for multiple trips to the buffet line in the large conference room for anyone who was very hungry.


Carol Tavris’ speech ‘Who’s lying, Who’s Self-Justifying? Origins of the He Said/She Said Gap in Sexual Allegations,’ (see a Storify here) well-received by the crowd, was a personal favorite of mine. Tavris said that as skeptics we should question everything, including sexual assault allegations, and should not be considered ‘rape cultured’ for doing so.

She also highlighted the fact that people are quick to believe testimony [of women] about sexual allegations – so much so that faculty members of Duke University, in a famous case of a false allegation, before a collection of evidence [outside of mere testimony] or a trial, collectively signed a letter siding with the false accuser.

Tavris cautioned people about jumping to conclusions and encouraged a skeptical mindset when evaluating allegations. She also noted that people can be mistaken and not necessarily lying when making accusations because memory is faulty, miscommunication happens, and people are often not direct about their wants.

Tavris’ talk was a much-needed strong rebuke of modern feminism and its common memes — ‘a woman would never lie about a sexual allegations,’ ‘our society glorifies, excuses, and contributes to common sexual violence against women,’ ‘a drunk woman in all cases (even when she and her partner are intoxicated) is considered to have been raped if she has sex,’ — as advanced by popular and influential commentators.

Of course not all feminists are like that, but many are — including those from well-funded advocacy groups, government organizations, and popular commentators – so much so, I would suppose, that Tavris felt the need to address these issues and note, “this is not the feminism I signed up for” within her speech.

Tavris noted ‘sexual stupidity’ which results in criminal charges including a case at Occidental College in which a woman was asking – through text messaging — a man about a condom because she wanted to have sex. Following the sex, coupled with alcohol, the man was charged with rape and expelled from his university. Tavris also explained that alcohol leads to people making poor decisions and that consent is a blurry, confusing, and complicated topic which does not always include verbal, direct, and clear affirmation.

Photo with Zoe of the Antisocial Justice Podcast
Photo with Zoe of the Antisocial Justice Podcast

Elizabeth Loftus’ talk ‘The Memory Factory,’ Bill Nye’s keynote address, Daniel Loxton’s talk ‘A Rare and Beautiful Thing,’ Steven Novella’s talk ‘How to Think Like a Skeptical Neurologist,’ and Richard Saunders’ talk ‘Looking into the Psychic Mirror’ were five other speeches which I found compelling. I will not go into great detail about these talks in this piece (I don’t want a super-long blog post).

This conference – outside of the entertainment, social networking, and archiving through live-tweeting — was quite valuable for me because I will be able to use the information in my professional role of working with students who have disabilities — better relating with them and adding skeptical thinking into the classroom setting – and in my study of Mental Health Counseling in addition to my internship and practicum hours which are approaching.

I would like to attend this and similar conferences in the future if I am not working and/or have vacation days in addition to having the required funds (conferences often are not inexpensive for me), but do not have any specific plans in mind for 2014 at the moment apart from the 2014 Pennsylvania Counseling Association Conference which I hope to attend this Fall with my peers and instructors from Marywood University because the trip is affordable – mostly paid for by the university I attend. It’s additionally difficult to plan at the moment because my schedule for the Fall semester, because of approaching practicum hours, is uncertain.

Thanks again to the JREF staff; supporters who made this conference experience possible through donating to and promoting my fundraiser; those who thanked me for my live-tweeting, activism, and online contributions; and everyone who was so welcoming and friendly at #TAM2014. I would rather not name names because I would surely forget someone. You know who you are!

As always, feel free to comment below. Consider surveying my live-tweets from #TAM2014 and watching videos of TAM presentations when they become available. JREF staff promised videos will be uploaded following the conference.

#TAM2014 fundraiser follow-up, success

Live-tweeting from Women in Secularism 2
Live-tweeting from Women in Secularism 2

Thanks to those who helped make my #TAM2014 fundraiser successful.

Last month, I launched a fundraiser to facilitate my attendance at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s 2014 annual conference dubbed The Amaz!ng Meeting. The fundraiser was successful and, because of this, most of my expenses will be covered.

During the conference I will meet with donors who, through perks, selected special t-shirts for me to wear during conference days.

Conference attendees who received other perks may meet me in-person at the conference to obtain perks (minus the postcards which will be mailed). Donors who will not be attending #TAM2014 will receive perks via postal mail.

As previously promised, I will be live-tweeting from the event – posting updates and selected speaker quotes/ideas. I will also seek to interview conference attendees and speakers; author blog posts; and release Facebook updates.

I neglected to author a follow-up piece concerning the fundraiser because I wanted to focus on my recent efforts of opposing government-led Judeo-Christian prayer and providing secular alternatives at Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings (see the ‘council prayer‘ category for a detailed history). I now take the time, although I am slightly late, to publicly thank supporters – this time on my website.

I raised $1000 from donors and, to reduce the fees associated with Indiegogo flexible campaign fundraisers (if flexible fundraisers fail to reach their goal a larger percentage is charged as a fundraising fee), I kicked in $200 of my own money (see contributor ‘justinvacula1’ – named so because I had to log out to contribute).

Although I didn’t reach the $1200 goal wholly from donors’ contributions, I am very appreciative and am satisfied because attending #TAM2014 went from outside of my price range to affordable. I am looking forward to learning from and reporting on the event. Thanks for your help.

Look forward to more content in coming days on my website related to my secular activism. My right-to-know requests filed with the city of Wilkes-Barre were answered and I will soon release the information with added commentary.

69% of fundraiser goal reached

headshotMy fundraiser — “Send atheist and secular activist Justin Vacula to 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting” — has reached 69% of its goal with 13 days remaining.

Thanks to funders John Bullock, Maja Leibovitz, Scott Van Hoosen, Philip Sipos, Michael K Gray, Sarah LaVorgna, Kay, and two anonymous contributors for donating to my fundraiser. Thanks to those of you who shared and talked about the campaign.

The support I have received has been tremendous. If you have not yet contributed consider donating and — if you cannot donate — please share the campaign to help me attend and report on the 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting. I am close to my goal of $1200 with $825 currently raised.

Many perks are still available. Dr. Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” has pledged signed copies of his book to be offered as perks. Twitter shoutouts, signed postcards, bumper stickers, and the opportunity to select a t-shirt for me to wear on Sunday of the conference are still available.

Please support the James Randi Educational Foundation and my conference reporting.

View the fundraiser here.

Watch a video of my initial fundraising pitch below.

35% toward fundraiser goal

Live-tweeting from Women in Secularism 2
Live-tweeting from Women in Secularism 2

My “Send atheist and secular activist Justin Vacula to 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting” fundraiser reached 35% of its $1200 goal. Please donate to make this a success.

Yesterday, I launched a campaign to raise funds for me attendance at the 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation in Las Vegas. Thanks to generous donors and promoters, I raised $420 of the $1200 goal.

Many of the perks I offer to donors are still available. Donors at the $100 level and up can receive signed copies of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” by Dr. Peter Boghossian and the opportunity to advertise a message on a t-shirt I will wear during the conference. Signed postcards, Twitter shoutouts, bumper stickers, and Skype conversations are also available.

21 days remain to raise the remaining 65% needed to make this fundraiser successful. Please contribute and promote the fundraiser to help me reach my goal.